Report: Ag Productivity Not Meeting 2050 Goals

Report: Ag Productivity Not Meeting 2050 Goals

An annual Virginia Tech report shows agriculture is behind the pace necessary to meet the world’s productivity needs in 2050. The 2021 Global Agricultural Productivity Report says global productivity growth needs to accelerate at all production scales to meet consumers’ needs and address the current and future threats to human and environmental well-being. Ann Steensland is Lead for the Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative and the GAP Report author and editor. She talks about what they mean by “productivity.”

“Just to clarify for your audience, productivity grows when the amount of land, labor, fertilizer, feed, machinery, and livestock stays the same, but it produces more crops, livestock, and aquaculture products, so, it’s a measurement of efficiency – that’s the easiest way to think about it. And so, as we look globally, where we want to be is, at a global level, increasing our productivity by 1.73 percent per year.”

She talks about how the GAP Report figures out the current pace and what level the shortfall is at.

“Every year in the Gap Report, we use data from the USDA Economic Research Service, and we compare that and say, well, where are we compared to where we think we need to be. And this year, we are at 1.36 percent, which doesn’t sound like much unless you project it out to 2050, and that gap between where we are and what we need to be at grows. And it’s that gap that creates some issues for consumers, for producers, for our environment, and that’s really where we are concerned to see this number as low as this is, compared to where we need to be.”

Part of the reason for the shortfall is many farmers around the world don’t have access to modern information and tools to help them be more productive.

“Here in the U.S., we are incredibly productive, with the most productive, the longest history of productivity in the world. It’s made a huge impact on our agriculture, but we need to continue that growth, and we’ve been a little stagnant for a couple of years now, and so we’re looking to the next generation of technologies, so, it could be things like gene-edited crops, continued improvements in precision agriculture, the next generation of how we use data, and other tools. So, we’re looking at these quickly-evolving new technologies to give us another burst of productivity here in the U.S.”

Steensland talks about steps the Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative wants to put into place to accelerate the growth of agricultural productivity.

“We need to accelerate our investments in public sector research development and extension programs. We are very blessed in this country to have a phenomenal land grant system, to have the extensive extension systems that we do, and the farmers benefit from that and have for many, many decades now. And our investments in research and development here are beginning to tick up a little bit, which is good, but we’re pretty far behind where we need to be, so there’s still some work to do here. We need to be embracing a science-based approach to the inputs that we’re using as well as the information and making sure that, again, farmers have access to that information, that they understand how to use it, they’ve got the best tools that they can get, and of course, if you ask any farmer, that’s what they want. So, the second one is making sure that farmers have a choice, and they can access the things that they know they need to be the most productive that they can.”